As table games open for business at casinos across the state, Pennsylvania law firms are doubling down on laterals with gaming ties across the mid-Atlantic region.

The latest firm to add to its gaming practice is Saul Ewing, which said Tuesday it was acquiring four of the five attorneys at Ruben & Aronson in Bethesda, Md.

Robert L. Ruben and Louis M. Aronson will join the firm as partners, Lawrence A. London will join as special counsel and Jonathan S. Cohen as an associate. They will all be based in Saul Ewing’s Washington, D.C., office.

The group has represented operators, applicants, lenders and vendors involved in the casino industries in Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Nevada, Minnesota, Michigan and Ohio. They handle matters involving licensing, finance, mergers and acquisitions, real estate development, labor and employment and regulatory reporting and compliance.

“Their well-established experience in the gaming and racino industries is an excellent addition to our practice areas at a time when the gaming industry is rapidly expanding, especially in our market area,” Saul Ewing managing partner David S. Antzis said in a statement.

It seems as though other area firms would agree.

In June, Ballard Spahr added to its Philadelphia office Frank T. Donaghue, who most recently served as interim deputy executive director of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board. Donaghue’s ties to Pennsylvania gaming go back as far as the industry does in the state. He was the first chief counsel to the board beginning in February 2006 and then in May 2008 served as its acting executive director. When that position was filled permanently by Kevin F. O’Toole in May 2009, Donaghue was appointed to interim deputy executive director.

Also in June, Duane Morris added Alfred J. Luciani as special counsel to its Cherry Hill, N.J., office. Luciani’s background has been in the gaming, hospitality and construction sectors. He directed and oversaw the construction and design of several Native American casino projects and has more than 25 years of experience in the industry.

Luciani has served as president of Sands Casino Hotel in Atlantic City, president and chief executive officer of Foxwoods Resort Casino, chief operating officer of Merv Griffin’s Resorts and president of Golden Nugget in Las Vegas. He joins Hersh Kozlov, head of Duane Morris’ Cherry Hill office and leader of its gaming industry practice.

Antzis said a recruiter put Ruben & Aronson in touch with Saul Ewing. A few of the firm’s Baltimore partners who are active in recruiting met with the smaller firm and things progressed quickly from there. Antzis said the entire deal was completed in just a few months. It’s part of Saul Ewing’s effort to be more nimble and move more quickly in the recruiting process. He said smaller, successful firms are often hard to woo because they give up a certain amount of autonomy when joining a larger firm.

The addition of Ruben & Aronson is the first real foray into the gaming world for Saul Ewing, which Antzis said had only handled a few matters tangentially related to gaming. He said he sees a lot of growth potential in the industry in just about every state where the firm has offices. Maryland, which currently has restrictions on gaming, is expected to loosen them and Delaware is increasing its gaming industry. Antzis said Pennsylvania is certainly growing gaming in the state.

“It’s one of the ways states are dealing with budget deficits,” he said.

Saul Ewing isn’t technically merging with Ruben & Aronson, Antzis said, though the firm’s name will cease to exist. All but one of its attorneys made the move from Bethesda to Washington. Antzis said the firm didn’t want to open a Bethesda location for four lawyers and decided not to take Ruben & Aronson’s office manager and a few other staff members. He said Ruben and Aronson each bring a seven-figure book of business to the firm and handle other matters aside from gaming law.

It is gaming law, however, that has many firms looking for revenue opportunities as various jurisdictions do the same.

“I think with the economy in its current situation and every conceivable jurisdiction looking to try to raise some money, that it makes sense that gaming is one of the options they will consider,” Sandra Mannix of Abelson Legal Search said.

She said everyone knows who has been in the gaming business and there aren’t that many people who have years of experience. Abelson Legal recently worked with a woman who spent 13 years between the New Jersey and Nevada gaming commissions and Mannix said she was “very hot property.”

The flip side of the industry is that there are several practice areas that tie into the gaming industry, from real estate to labor and employment and from construction to compliance.

“It’s an area where people from a whole host of different backgrounds can try to insert themselves,” Mannix said.

But with any “hot specialty,” she said, there is the question of whether it will be as booming in five years.

Ruben, who joined Saul Ewing effective July 1, has sustained a gaming career for more than 20 years, representing clients seeking gaming licenses and fighting to protect those licenses when challenged. From 1995 to 2002, Ruben was a member of the board of directors of MTR Gaming Group Inc., and from 1999 to 2002 was licensed as a principal by the Nevada Gaming Commission. Antzis said MTR Gaming has been a client of Ruben & Aronson’s.

Aronson, who served as the managing partner of Ruben & Aronson, has represented entrepreneurs in the real estate, gaming, venture capital, technology and energy industries. London focuses his practice on corporate and transactional real estate work as well as some tax matters related to gaming. Cohen handles real estate, securities, commercial finance, gaming, corporate and transactional matters.

Saul Ewing significantly expanded its then-small Washington office in 2006 with its merger with 17-attorney Schmeltzer Aptaker & Shepard. This latest Washington merger now puts the firm at nearly 30 attorneys in the city. •